Recognizing the axis of evil

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If media reports of last week's IAF raid in Syria pan out, the attack against a North-Korean-supplied Syrian nuclear facility in eastern Syria should serve as a pivotal event in the free world's understanding of the enemy it faces in the current global war. The central question now is whether this clarity will be followed by a strategic shift in the US and Israeli governments' conceptualizations of the challenges facing them in the various theaters of war and diplomacy in which they are now engaged.


What the raid exposed is that the free world faces a cohesive alliance of enemy forces that collaborate closely in their joint and separate offensives against their common foes. Whether or not it is called the axis of evil, after the IAF raid it is undeniable that its members – North Korea, Iran and Syria – collaborate closely in their joint war.


Contrary to the prevailing wisdom, this is not a temporary alliance of convenience among three otherwise unrelated states. It is a strategic alignment of three regimes that have been acting in tandem on multiple levels for decades. Their collaborative operations have served two primary functions. First they cooperate in perpetuating their holds on power. This they do primarily through criminal enterprises. Second, they work together to wage war against their common foes. The second objective is advanced primarily through the proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction.


Furthermore, all three regimes view diplomatic exchanges with their enemies not as a means to solve their disagreements with them, but as a means to gain advantage by forcing US, Israeli and international concessions that legitimize their regimes and enable them to continue to conduct their war.


TIES BETWEEN the countries have been developing since the 1980s. That cooperation blossomed into a full-scale alliance during the 1990s. This is notable because the 1990s marked the period when both US and Israeli foreign policies centered on repeated attempts to appease all three governments.


In 1994, the US embraced appeasement of North Korea when it signed the Agreed Framework that maintained the economic viability of the North Korean regime in exchange for Pyongyang's pledge to end its nuclear weapons program. The US appeased Teheran by embracing the supposedly moderate government of president Muhammad Khatami, and downplayed Iran's role in terrorist bombings of US targets like the 1996 Iranian-ordered bombing of the US Air Force barracks in Saudi Arabia.


Israel pursued appeasement through the Oslo peace process with the PLO, its refusal to contend effectively with the Iranian- and Syrian-sponsored Hizbullah forces in Lebanon, and through its conduct of intense negotiations with the Syrians toward an Israeli surrender of the strategically vital Golan Heights.


It was during the 1990s that North Korean-Iranian-Syrian criminal cooperation reached its apex. It was also during this decade that they made the greatest headway in their ballistic missile and weapons of mass destruction programs. These advances were made while all three regimes pocketed concessions made by the US and Israel, and systematically breached all their commitments to both countries and to international treaties of which they are signatories.


ONE OF the inheritances the mullahs received from the Shah of Iran after they overthrew him in 1979 was a US-supplied Intaglio currency printing press. Since at least 1989 this printing press has been used to produce so-called "super-notes."


Super-notes are highly sophisticated counterfeit US bills that are nearly undetectable. The advent of the super-notes forced the US Treasury to print new currency twice in a decade. In 1992 a Congressional Task Force concluded that the bills which proliferated in Lebanon's Hizbullah and Syrian-controlled Beka'a Valley were of Iranian and Syrian origin. In 2005, the first super-notes were intercepted in the US. They were sourced to North Korea.


According to a report Sunday in Yediot Aharonot, Iran has financed its purchase of nuclear and other materiel from North Korea through the provision of super-notes to Pyongyang. The US believes that Pyongyang itself procured a Swiss-made Intaglio press sometime in the 1990s. Intelligence services agree that Iran, Syria and North Korea collaborate closely in their currency-counterfeiting operations.


In 2003, the State Department concluded that the North Korean regime had sustained its economic viability principally through counterfeit currency operations.


IN SEPTEMBER 2005, the US launched a financial offensive against North Korea which could potentially have led to the eventual financial collapse of the regime when it labeled the Banco Delta Asia, a Macau-based bank, an agent of North Korean money-laundering. The move followed a US investigation showing that BDA was North Korea's primary conduit for laundering counterfeit currency. The move effectively cut Pyongyang out of international financial markets, making it far more difficult for the North Koreans to sustain the regime financially.


North Korea's response to the move was to expand its nuclear and missile collaboration with Iran and Syria still further. Throughout the 1990s, the North Koreans provided Iran and Syria with ballistic missiles, and then missile technologies and assembly plants. After the BDA affair, in July and October 2006 North Korea conducted intermediate and long-range missile tests and then a nuclear test. Iranian scientists were reportedly present at all tests.


THE US responded to the North Korean provocations by intensifying its diplomatic efforts. Those efforts led to the signing of the February 13, 2007 bilateral deal between the US and North Korea, in which Pyongyang pledged to end its nuclear programs within 60 days in exchange for diplomatic acceptance by the US and economic assistance from the US and the international community. In exchange for the North Korean pledge, the US secretly agreed to unfreeze North Korean accounts at BDA and so paved the way for North Korean reentry to international financial markets.


While the deal was hailed as a diplomatic triumph, it suffered from several fatal flaws. The first flaw was that it failed to account for North Korea's pattern of breaching its agreements with the US. As former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton has pointed out, the US had no reason to believe that North Korea would honor its commitments; and, indeed, when 60 days after the deal was signed, Pyongyang had yet to shut down its nuclear installation at Yongbyon, it was clear that North Korea had maintained its practice of diplomatic perfidy.


The agreement also made no allowance for North Korea's existing nuclear arsenal or materials, and said nothing about restricting North Korea's proliferation of nuclear materials and technologies. As last week's IAF raid on the reportedly North Korean-supplied Syrian nuclear installation made clear, this oversight is full of geopolitical consequences.


IT WOULD seem that the main reason the US signed such an ill-advised deal with the North Koreans is that the State Department wished to neutralize North Korea in order to concentrate its efforts on Iran and Iraq. By so acting, the US failed to recognize the fundamental truth that last week's IAF raid exposed. Specifically, North Korea is allied with Iran and to Syria, and as a result cannot be set aside or isolated. It is impossible to confront Iran or Syria or North Korea without confronting the entire alliance. And it is impossible to appease one without strengthening all of them.


This truth has been ignored by both the US and by Israel for decades. The Israeli government continues to view Syria as an independent actor and so hopes that eventually it can be sufficiently appeased to accept the Golan Heights from Israel in exchange for a cold peace.

Israel and the US fail to understand the proxy role the Palestinians play for members of this enemy axis, and so view the establishment of a Palestinian state as a means of neutralizing the Palestinian theater rather than recognizing that such a state will serve at best as a safe haven for global terrorists, and at worst as North Korea's new nuclear client.


The US views Syria only in relation to its nefarious role in Iraq, and so misses the connection between Syrian and Iranian sponsorship of Palestinian terrorists in Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah, and the war the US fights in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Israel and the US view North Korea as an isolated Asian nuisance that has little connection to the war in the Middle East. As a result, Israel for decades has been indifferent to North Korean provocations and the US has ignored the global implications of Pyongyang's nuclear program. So too, the US fails to understand how its diplomatic weakness toward North Korea enhances Iran's position at the bargaining table and advances its nuclear weapons program.


ON THE positive side, the muted, even supportive international response to the Israeli raid makes clear that the diplomatic standing of the members of the axis is far weaker than one would have expected. If, as some have claimed, the IAF raid was a rehearsal for an Israeli or US attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, then the international reaction to the IAF raid shows that such a mission will likely be met with minimal, if any, retrospective diplomatic opposition.


Yet it is far from clear that either Israel or the US understand the significance of Israel's operation in Syria. A week after the attack, the US announced its intention to give Pyongyang $25 million worth of heavy fuel oil in return for Pynogyang's good faith in their nuclear activities. Members of the IDF General Staff have recommended renewing negotiations with Syria regarding an Israeli surrender of the Golan Heights. The US is permitting Iranian President Ahmadinejad to attend the UN's General Assembly meeting in New York next week even as Ahmadinejad has escalated his nuclear and anti-American and anti-Israel rhetoric in recent weeks.


One can only hope that these Israeli and American moves represent simply the death throes of their clearly discredited view of their enemies as distinct and independent actors. Otherwise, the lessons exposed and the advantages gained from the IAF strike will be squandered, and the free world will be weakened as new life is given to the axis of evil.



Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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